Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.'

Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.' Photo: Neon.

Opening in theaters on March 22nd is ‘Immaculate,’ starring Sydney Sweeney, Álvaro Morte, Benedetta Porcaroli, Dora Romano, Giorgio Colangeli, and Simona Tabasco.

Initial Thoughts

While the sight of Sydney Sweeney costumed in a nun’s habit might be jarring enough for viewers of her more provocative work in series and movies like ‘Anyone But You,’ ‘Euphoria’ or ‘The Voyeurs,’ there’s a lot more that will rattle you in director Michael Mohan’s creepy and entertainingly lurid ‘Immaculate.’

A religious horror thriller with a seasoning of nunsploitation, a generous topping of gore, and a go-for-broke attitude right out of the 1970s, ‘Immaculate’ might be in need of a few less jump scares and plot holes, but will hold your attention with its grisly twists and a ferocious performance by its star.

Related Article: Sydney Sweeney Talks 'Immaculate' and Why She Loves Horror Movies

Story and Direction

Director Michael Mohan on the set of 'Immaculate.'

Director Michael Mohan on the set of 'Immaculate.' Photo: Neon.

Right up front, ‘Immaculate’ (written by Andrew Loebl) lets us know that not everything is divine at My Lady of Sorrows, a remote Italian convent where younger nuns care for their older, dying colleagues. Following an intro in which a panicked nun named Mary (Simona Tabasco, ‘The White Lotus’) meets a horrifying fate while trying to leave, we are then introduced to Sister Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney), who has pledged to devote her life to Christ ever since she nearly drowned in an accident and was miraculously returned to life after seven minutes.

Cecilia has been invited to the convent by Father Sal Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte) and is given a kind if stern welcome by the Mother Superior (Dora Romano), while immediately bonding with another young nun, Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli). Although there are fleeting glimpses of something perhaps darker going on under the convent’s relatively placid surface, Cecilia finds herself settling in – until she wakes from a deeply disturbing nightmare to find that her life is about to irrevocably change.

Cecilia, you see, is suddenly getting morning sickness (including one macabre moment where she vomits out a tooth). The convent’s doctor examines her and the truth is revealed: Cecilia is pregnant, despite the fact that she is a virgin and has never had any kind of sexual contact with a man. That kind of announcement can only mean one thing in a Catholic convent, of course, but is a certain someone really growing inside her? And why did He pick her in the first place?

Sydney Sweeney and director Michael Mohan on the set of 'Immaculate.'

(L to R) Sydney Sweeney and director Michael Mohan on the set of 'Immaculate.' Photo: Neon.

‘Immaculate’ pays tribute to a number of classic horror films of the late ‘60s and ‘70s – you’ll find nods to ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ ‘The Omen,’ and even the brutal ‘Mark of the Devil’ (which was “rated V for violence” in its day) scattered throughout its tight 89-minute runtime – but the narrative doesn’t exactly go in the direction you might imagine. Loebl’s script takes some interesting thematic turns, even if director Michael Mohan (‘The Voyeurs’) is almost less interested in those than he is in the next jump scare or gore effect he can conjure up.

While he overdoes it on the jump scares – veering close to the edge of irritation – he’s quite liberal (small “l”) with the blood and other liquids, as the prim and proper Cecilia eventually finds herself wallowing in gallons of blood, amniotic fluid, and ethanol (don’t ask). We won’t divulge details of how she gets there, but the third act of this movie goes truly off the rails in a good way, leading to an ending that may make even the non-faithful cross themselves with its implications.

Mohan may rely on those aforementioned jump scares too much in the film’s first two acts to create terror where there isn’t much; the movie is better when the director lets it soak in the setting and its dread-laced atmosphere. The narrative itself is rickety in spots, with a number of plot turns not quite adding up if one stops to think about them. But the film barrels along despite this, thanks to Sweeney’s believable journey from devout servant of God to unstoppable angel of vengeance.

The Sweeney Factor

Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.'

Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.' Photo: Neon.

Sydney Sweeney apparently auditioned for this role a decade ago, when the movie was first in development, and since then she has assumed a role as producer on the film as well as star. But kudos to her: she bravely goes anywhere the story takes her, including some very dark places, and there is one long take at the end of the film that is somewhat jaw-dropping in the level of her intensity.

It’s clear also that her talents and range benefit from being in sync with her director. Not to kick ‘Madame Web’ when it’s already as down as it can be, but Sweeney visibly did not bring her A-game in that film (more like her B-game). Yet in work like ‘Reality’ and now this, she’s genuinely much more invested in the material and it shows. The rest of the more anonymous cast in ‘Immaculate’ are fine – some of the performances are a bit overripe, which is perfectly suited to a film like this – but this is Sweeney’s show all the way.

A Heritage of Horror

Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.'

Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.' Photo: Neon.

As noted earlier, ‘Immaculate’ features a ton of horror influences, most of them stemming from the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to the films mentioned above, director Michael Mohan tapes into the tradition of Hammer horror, while also drawing from a lot of other Eurohorror and religious horror of the period, as well as the works of Italian masters of the macabre like Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

Then there’s the weird little subgenre of “nunsploitation,” which peaked around the same time and generally revolved around repressed nuns experiencing religious persecution, supernatural terror, and/or sexual shenanigans (sometimes all at the same time), usually in foreboding convents like the one in ‘Immaculate.’ While this film doesn’t quite hit the same depths of depravity as movies like ‘The Nun and the Devil’ (1973), ‘Satanico Pandemonium’ (1975), or ‘Alucarda’ (1976), the influence is surely there.

Final Thoughts

Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.'

Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.' Photo: Neon.

‘Immaculate’ doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way, shape, or form, but that’s not the point: the movie proudly wears its many horror influences on its sleeve and also unashamedly delivers a lurid, often wickedly entertaining good time for genre fans. The director does overuse the jump scares and the script has more than a few spots where narrative logic is noticeably lacking, but have faith: the film’s overall intensity, gory action, and a compelling central performance from its star will get you through the rough spots to a truly insane ending.

‘Immaculate’ receives 7 out of 10 stars.

Immaculate

"Not every intervention is divine."
63
R1 hr 29 minMar 12th, 2024
Showtimes & Tickets

What is the plot of ‘Immaculate’?

A devout young nun named Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney) travels to a remote convent in Italy, where she intends to devote her life entirely to her faith. But after initially fitting into the daily lives and routines of the nuns, a shocking personal revelation and a series of sinister events send Cecilia on a journey into horror from which even God might not be able to save her.

Who is in the cast of ‘Immaculate’?

  • Sydney Sweeney as Sister Cecilia
  • Álvaro Morte as Father Sal Tedeschi
  • Benedetta Porcaroli as Sister Gwen
  • Dora Romano as Mother Superior
  • Giorgio Colangeli as Cardinal Franco Merola
  • Simona Tabasco as Sister Mary

Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.'

Sydney Sweeney in 'Immaculate.' Photo: Neon.

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